‘Go in Peace’ say veterans who’ve known war | VailDaily.com

‘Go in Peace’ say veterans who’ve known war

EDWARDS — Veterans Day ended with "Taps" and a wish for peace from those who know war.

The annual ceremony at Freedom Park opened with the Avon Elementary School honor choir performing "On Veterans Day," a touching, musical thank-you to those who made it possible for us to gather on a stunning afternoon. The choir finished and the music wafted into the setting sun. If there were dry eyes in the house, then they were lying eyes.

This was the 12th anniversary of the Freedom Park ceremony honoring military veterans and first responders, and it wasn't sleeting or raining or snowing. It's also the day after the 241st birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps, and is the 154th anniversary of "Taps", played Friday by Ret. Capt. Gary Thornton, U.S. Coast Guard.

Pat Hammon and Deb Robbins have been coordinating Veterans Day events around the valley for 10 years, creating as many school and community events as possible. This year they put on events in 16 local schools, in addition to the Freedom Park event and others.

"It's not Veterans Day for them, it's veterans week," said Lt. Col Tony Somogyi, commander of the Colorado National Guard's High Altitude Aviation Training Site in Gypsum

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The Freedom Park ceremony is always held between the memorials to fallen military and first responders, and a piece of Pentagon limestone, blown out of a that building during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It's the only one of its kind in Colorado.

The young lady who introduced Hammon told us things we probably did not know — that Hammon joined the military because a recruiter told her they'd help pay the bills for her nursing school. They also offered her a trip around the world. She got as far as Vietnam, where she cared for wounded soldiers.

"It was not exactly what I imaged the world looked like," says Hammon, who, we also learned has climbed 37 Colorado 14ers.

Somogyi, the keynote speaker, defined veterans. If you think of them as older, you're staring into a generation gap that's closed by camaraderie, Somogyi said. Different soldiers from different eras might make references to experiences, or make wisecracks that might get a blank, uncomprehending stare from those older or younger.

"These generation gaps exist because time marches on and waits for no one, yet we're still in the same category as veterans," Somogyi said.

'What's Truly Important'

It's probably easier to spot veterans than you might think.

"We seem to be a pretty opinionated bunch, when we're asked," Somogyi said.

Only about 7 percent of the U.S. population are veterans, "Yet you see or hear from us fairly regularly, sometimes whether you want to or not," Somogyi said.

"It's not because we're a cocky bunch or think we're better than anyone — that's far from the truth. Veterans are some of the most humble individuals I've ever associated with," he said.

It's the stories that come from under that ball cap that says "I served," and some are amazing. It's those experiences that tie them together, he said.

"Most veterans experience history on a global scale. It's part of the reason we don't keep up with the Kardashians. I'd like to think it's these experiences show us what's truly important in the world," Somogyi said.

All veterans served, some unwillingly — some just needed the college money. But all served our country, Somogyi said.

"We know we are only one method of exerting national policy, and yet we served. When you come to this realization, it becomes more about your wingman, or the guy in the tank or the foxhole with you, and less about why you were there," he said. "We served for different reasons, but the camaraderie is the same, and the generation gap is closed."

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.